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Saturday, December 21, 2019

"Payload Content" on YouTube

At Lawfare, Lisa Kaplan reports on TheSoul, a mysterious social media operation that seems to be emulating the "payload content" strategy of the Internet Research Agency.
Most of TheSoul’s videos are clickbait with instructions for do-it-yourself projects, and TheSoul’s channels range in success. Some are less active than others. Of the 35 channels I examined, nine have stopped posting in the past year, and a handful (5-Minute Workouts, Health Is Wealth, Health Digest, Dark Side and Zodiac Maniac) have not posted new content in the past 11 months. You’re Gorgeous, The Story Behind and Stickman have all stopped posting new content within the past six months. However, the most popular channels—Bright Side and 5-Minute Crafts—appear to be active and growing. From August 2019 to December 2019, according to examinations of the data in both periods, Bright Side gained nearly 3.5 million subscribers and 1 billion views, and 5-Minute Crafts gained more than 3 million subscribers and 1.5 billion views.
The vast majority of the company’s content is apolitical—and that is certainly the way the company portrays itself. A spokesperson for TheSoul Publishing commented that “[w]e are very proud of our highly popular videos enjoyed by millions around the world. From do-it-yourself craft to charming animation to riddle and puzzle videos, TheSoul Publishing showcases a portfolio of lighthearted content watched across major social platforms.”
But here’s the thing: TheSoul Publishing also posts history videos with a strong political tinge. Many of these videos are overtly pro-Russian. One video posted on Feb. 17, 2019, on the channel Smart Banana, which typically posts listicles and history videos, claims that Ukraine is part of Russia. The video opens:
Mr. Banana wants to know what you think about when you hear the word Russia. Do you think of a bear with a bottle of vodka and a balalaika in his paw, or maybe you think about President Putin and the Red Square in Moscow. Let’s have a look at the history of the biggest country in the world.
At one point, the video gives a heavily sanitized version of Josef Stalin’s time in power and, bizarrely, suggests that Alaska was given to the United States by Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev:
The second leader after Lenin’s death was Josef Stalin. He started to recover the country after the revolution. Josef reformed the country. He took the wealth from rich people and the property from the middle class and united all of these people with poor ones in the collective farm and the collective property. Russian Robin Hood—bang! Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. It was the beginning of the second World War. Russia was not ready for any wars at the moment, so Hitler hoped to conquer Russia in four months. As naive as Napoleon. The USSR joined the allies. The Soviet Union militaries came to Berlin and beat it. The facism of Hitler was defeated on the second of May 1945 during four years of war, the Soviet Union officially lost twenty-seven million people. Many cities were destroyed. Recovery from the war was very difficult for both people and the country. By 1960, the Soviet Union succeeded, in 1957 the rent of Alaska was over and the country’s leader at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, gifted Alaska to the USA. That’s when Alaska became the 49th state of the US.